What Does It Mean to “Tithe”?

January 25, 2015

Dear Fellow Parishioners,

Recently I asked a priest friend and scholar to offer some thoughts on tithing. I thought you might find his response insightful. Let us continue to dialogue on how St. Edward’s has been and will be a tithing parish.

Peace, Fr. Brian

The origin of the term “tithe” is in scripture, where it means giving 10% to the Lord and to religious institutions directed toward the Lord. The scriptural prescription about giving alms or charity to the poor has no percentage requirement. The common use of the term “tithing parish” refers to parishioners giving 10% of their income to the Church and its religious activities. If one goes beyond the common understanding of members giving 10% to the Church; you could begin to speak of the parish tithing itself.

In the root scriptural meaning of that term “tithing,” a “tithing parish” would give 10% to the Lord and to the religious activities of the Church. St. Edward’s annually gives 8% to the Archdiocese in its assessment, and it gives donations to different religious causes, like, the Church and shrines in the Holy Land on Good Friday, the home mission Churches in the United States, the Propagation of the Faith, etc. When you add up all things, contributions that St. Edward’s make to the maintenance of the Church and the religious works of the Lord, it is clear that St. Edward’s is a “tithing parish” in giving 10% or more to the Lord and the works of the Lord.

It appears that some people at St. Edward’s have usurped the word “tithe” from its original intent to maintain the religious works of the Lord as scripturally prescribed at 10%, and they have transformed it into an injunction to give “charity” to the poor at a 10% rate. In doing this, they put greater emphasis upon charity to the poor than giving a tithe to the Lord. This transfer of the meaning of the term “tithe” has undertones of atheistic humanism – where an individual’s positive contribution to the need are very praiseworthy and humanistic, and their refusal to contribute to the parish and the archdiocese is really against God’s work in the Church and can therefore be said to be subtly, passively atheistic and of the secular spirit of the world.

What I am suggesting is that a major component of the problem you are dealing with is misuse of language. The term “tithe” really is a term which applies to giving 10% to the Lord and the religious works of the Lord, and “charity” is the proper term for alms giving to the poor. There is a scriptural injunction to tithe 10% for the religious works of the Lord, but there is no scriptural injunction to give 10% of one’s income in charity to the poor.

I hope these thoughts might be helpful in your parish’s exploration into what it means for St. Edward’s to be a “tithing parish.”